December 27, 2007
Belk’s career based on tradition
A private attorney, county prosecutor, special chancellor, state senator, husband, father and grandfather, Fred M. Belk Jr. has been a practicing attorney in Holly Springs for the past 44 years.
His upcoming retirement will be the end of an era of family law firms in Marshall County as the Belk family has been practicing law in the county courthouse for over 100 years.
Like the L.A. “Gus” Smith Law Firm, and the Glenn Fant Law Firm, families indigenous to Marshall County who made law both a profession and a calling, Belk said he is one of the last remaining attorneys who is the son of a son of a son who practiced law in Holly Springs.
Following the footsteps of his father and grandfather, Belk was elected to the Mississippi State Senate in 1968, then elected to his present position as county prosecutor in 1975.
He served a short term as interim chancery court judge in 1996 by appointment of the Mississippi Supreme Court.
“My grandfather and father held these positions at one time in their lives, and to be able to do the same as they makes me proud,” Belk said.
It’s all about service and involvement, Belk said of his long years of court service.
He has also given much community service.
Among other accomplishments, Belk is past president of the Holly Springs Jaycees and Chamber of Commerce, and served as chairman of the Holly Springs Planning Commission. And he served as president of the Marshall County Bar Association and the Mississippi State Prosecutors Association, giving back to his profession.
Belk is listed in Outstanding Personalities of the South, Who’s Who in American Politics and Who’s Who in American Law.
“Having counseled thousands, my door has always been open,” he said.
His daughter Tish Belk Summerlin has been by his side as his legal assistant.
“Sincerely counseling someone in need is what daddy feels is his biggest asset as a lawyer,” she said. “His passion has never been to make it to the White House, but to serve his family and friends right here at home in Marshall County.”
Belk said law is not quite what it was when he started practice nearly 50 years ago.
“I feel it is not viewed as gentlemanly as a profession as it was back in the day,” he said. “It’s much more competitive today.”
Belk said the changes he has observed in his profession over the years is indicative of the fast-paced changes in American society in general.
“Apathy has allowed the basic beliefs of yesteryear - God, Mom and apple pie - to become diluted and, they unfortunately do not hold so true today,” he said.
His grandfather William Alexander Belk came to Marshall County in 1894 to study law as an apprentice under local attorney Rice Fant.
An apprentice studied law as an alternate route to becoming a lawyer if they were without the resources to go to law school and law schools were few and far between, he said. Like Abraham Lincoln, William Alexander Belk learned law hands-on from an attorney already admitted to the bar.
William Alexander Belk came to Holly Springs from Water Valley where he had been teaching school.
“My grandfather was so strict in his elocution and was a voracious reader,” Belk said, “that at the dinner table if one of his children made an error in speech, he would go to the chalk board he kept in the dining room and parse the words while at the table. That was the teacher in him.”
His grandfather was in the last class of senators who held the last session in the Old Capitol Building before the Legislature moved to the New Capitol building in the early 1900s.
His father Fred M. Belk Sr., who practiced law 35 years in Holly Springs, was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives, staunchly opposed a effort by Mississippi Governor Bilbo to move the Ole Miss School of Law to Jackson by introducing a resolution to keep the school in Oxford.
Belk attended Millsaps College where he was quarterback for three and a half years on the varsity team. He moved on to Oxford to study law where he met his childhood sweetheart Linda. They were married and she worked on her bachelor’s degree while he studied for his juris doctorate.
Together they have four children, Tish, and sons Fred III, Fielding and Jonathan, and four grandchildren, Fred IV, Fielding Jr., and Wil and Anna Belk Summerlin.
The long legacy of Belk attorneys may be broken for at least one generation, Belk said. His children did not want to be lawyers.
“I tried to get them to go to law school,” he said. “I wanted the Belk law tradition to continue, but it just was not my kids’ calling.”
But daughter Tish, who has remained by his side in the office, said the Belk legacy is something she is proud of.
“There are so many clients of my daddy’s that say they have been coming to him since they could remember or that my grandfather was their daddy’s or grand daddy's lawyer,” she said. “I think that speaks volumes about the Belk name and what it has stood for in the legal community. What I and my brothers value most about our father is he is a good and a fair man.”
Belk said the case he is most proud of helping the county prosecute is the killer of Sheriff Osborne Bell. The trial was moved to Louisville, Miss., southwest of Starkville, and the jury convicted the defendant and gave him the death penalty. However, the case was appealed and retried and the second jury gave Bell’s assassin life imprisonment.
Belk said he treasures the people who he has worked with in county offices.
“I’ve worked for some smart, talented and dedicated people - people who are and were truly interested in Marshall County,” Belk said. “I’ve seen them come and go over the years, and we are blessed to have the level of abilities and professionalism here at work for the Marshall County community.”
Belk said he has been a man of tradition.
“I’ve been a traditional prosecutor, a traditional father and a traditional lawyer,” he said. “I’m steeped in tradition - definitely the old school. Tradition has mostly gone by the wayside and now I’m just an old fogey. But Marshall County has been good to me. It’s been a good ride.”
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